A long time ago in a galaxy far far away … (well, really quite close actually) a couple, both of musical persuasion, decided in their infinite wisdom to bear offspring. A son was born unto them and lo they called him Andrew. This is my story.
My earliest memory of anything remotely musically related was at home in Peterlee, where I spent most of my childhood. I remember my dad coming in, or going to, some gig or other and I remember seeing his Bass. I also distinctly remember him having some music on and him explaining the difference between bass and treble, which he did by saying that if you turned the treble knob you could somehow take the voice out of the music. I was young. Very young. I believed him and for years thought that that’s what the treble knob did, however I do know what he was getting at and really its not too bad a away of explaining to a 3 year old I suppose. I don’t remember much else about my dad being at home other than him playing at Langley Castle and him taking me along to sing baa baa black sheep through a mic which had a blue baffle on it. Oh and him taking me to see “scary” uncle Pete who I think managed “Rock City” in Sunderland at the time. “Scary” Uncle Pete also bought me a drum kit at some point in my early life, which me poor old ma was chuffed to bits about. Anyway, papa buggered off the scene and that was that.
My family have always been very musical, my mother played piano and cello, my dad played bass and trumpet, my granddad played the violin, and along with his brother and two sisters made up a quartet. Every Christmas as kids we had to go round and listen to “Bessie and Milly” play duets on the piano and I think my granddad and “uncle bill” used to join them, though I cant remember specifically. They all encouraged me into piano lessons at an early age, though I have to confess I hated it. My (very) old piano teacher, Miss Elliott used to get hold of one of my fingers and plonk it around the keyboard for half an hour while I day dreamed of sweets or action men or whatever it was that floated my boat then. Still, I think I did up to Grade 3 or something and was bought a Bontempi organ which I had for donkeys and used to entertain (irritate) the family during get togethers.
My first guitar was an old steel string acoustic bought by me dear old ma from an antique shop (I think it’s a resteraunt now) on Elvet Bridge in Durham. I think she bought it under duress as my then best friend Andrew ?? announced he was getting one for Christmas, and if he was having one, I wanted one. Andrew sharp gave up, and as my mother hated the racket I was making (‘Turn it down’ became as common a saying as good morning in our house) I obviously continued to play. Iron Maiden probably.
I suppose it was moving to weardale in 1983 that got me into a music scene of sorts. I started school in Wolsingham and it wasn’t long before I met Dave Reynolds (MZR) Paul Thompson, Alan (Ritson’s son) Wood, Alister “Pablo” Laine and Steve Wright (or Captain Rock as he seems to be known these days). I remember loads of individual bits and bobs about this time, but as for the order they happened I cant be too precise. I remember going to Steve’s house at Lunchtime as he lived in Wolsingham and particularly Pablo being there. Steve had a White Honer Strat copy and a Laney Cab and It used to sound fantastic. He would entertain us with repeated renditions of Molly Hatchets “Boogie no More”. Brill. I remember being in a band with Paul Thompson and Alan Wood. Don’t think we ever had a name, but we did used to rehearse in Alans back room causing the door to frequently burst open and Scary Mr Wood to enter shouting Turn it Down! Didn’t realise how similar parents could be. I remember a collection of various bands being put together. I remember buying a PA for about 100 quid with Dave Reynolds. I remember playing with Dave and possibly Pablo, certainly Tony (Steve Wrights Brother) in a band in which I was the Drummer. We played “Sweet Child of Mine” a lot I think, and rehearsed in High Grange Village hall. Dave and I were always doing something in High Grange village Hall, indeed everyone at somepoint frequented the place, it was Great. Daves family were cool as hell and I just about lived there at one point eating spready cheese, peanut butter, pickeld onion and tomato sauce sarnies whilst making a din and NOT getting told to turn it down. Funnilly enough, having moved back into the area a couple of things have surfaced to remind me of this era. On Boxing day ’05, I was invited back into Scary Mr. Wood’s house for a bit of a party/get together. Alan was there (great to see you by the way, if you have the misfortune to be reading this!) and his mam unearthed a picture of one of the bands (could have been MZR perhaps?) with Pablo in his lycra pants and Steve and Alan playing. Fantastic. Another strange thing is that Ive started mixing recently for a Band called “the Distractions” and apparently, though I really cant remember this, Dave R and I did the sound for 2 of the members (then the Jones Brothers?) at Wolsingham School with our £100 PA.
One fine day around this sort of era, Paul Thomson rang me to announce that he’d found an advert in the paper for a Guitarist and Bass Player to join a band in Shildon. They were a proper band. They had a proper PA and a Real Singer and were to hold an audition in some hall in Shildon which really sadly isn’t there anymore. Paul and I made a pact that we would go as a package and if they wanted one of us they’d have to have the other. Fortunately for me, they wanted Paul and we joined “Holosade”. This was my entry into what I considered then to be the music scene. Our first (certainly MY first real) gig was at Shildon Workingmens club which was the one up on stilts at the bottom end of Shildon. Again, really sadly for me, its now gone. Some bright spark thought we’d look cool with our faces painted white in a sort of “KISS” fashion (I had a lightening strike and false blood!) and the Singer who didn’t have a collosol amount of hair thought he might look cool in an executioners mask. We didn’t. I remember my Ma and Pa being there along with Elien and John Mooney from next door (??!!) and despite absolutely shitting myself, I loved it and I mean, LOVED it. It wasn’t long before the truth came out and they revealed to me that I’d only got the job because of Paul’s supreme bass skills. It felt like a bereavement to me and I was absolutely gutted. Paul however, sharp brok our pact and he stayed for a good while. If the truth be known, I would have done exactly the same thing. Ruthless business the music biz! I think I hung around them for a while, went to see them a couple of times with my replacement who I seem to remember was very, very good. The Drummer, Michael Lee went on to join a band called Little Angels who did very well. He ended up in The Cult and then the last I heard, playing with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Not bad for a spotty teenager whom I last saw in Bishop Auckland Bus station. I think he lives in LA now, or did.
Shortly after this, or maybe around the same sort of time, I had a conversation with one Beth Smith who lived down our street. She informed me for some reason that her brother owned a guitar so I took it upon myself to have a wander down one day and give him a knock. That knock was probably the most important knock of my musical, and indeed social, life. Tony Smith answered it.
He reckons today, that I was after borrowing his guitar and I really cant remember, though I will concede cos it sounds like the cheeky sort of thing I’d do. Smithy and I became good friends and I was invited into the circle of mates for the sole perpous of going “up Crook”, or “down Bishop” to get pissed with the lads whilst sporting big hair and doing the shovel dance to Yazz’s the only way is up. Amongst this circle of friends was a drummer called Brian Birket, or Bik to his mates. Bik was famous and well renowned, not for his drumming, though I do remember him as a good player, but more for the ludicrous antics he would get up to: namely shitting in a shoe box as he was too lazy to go to the bog (I was told it was true!), sticking a paper cup inbetween the cheeks of his arse (he had two eyes tattoo’d there, one on each cheek and the cup was to serve as a nose) and chasing women around the streets of Newquay, arse first obviously, before promptly getting nicked. I witnessed neither of these two things, but as I say, he was legendary.
In all fairness I cant exactly remember how it came about (most of my musical career seems to blend into one hazy memory, I do a lot of unsurity) but I have a niggling feeling that Smithy asked me if I wanted to join a band to play the clubs. I seem to remember wondering what the “clubs” were and being reliably informed that they were money making machines for young bands (little did I know!). I also think that our first rehearsal was in Witton Village Hall in the big horrible room (see the ATB story!). The band, then called “Distant Faces”, was comprised of Bik on Drums, Ali ?? on Keys and Mullet (he used to drive a lovely black Opel Manta and still had it about 15 years later when I passed him at some Traffic Lights), Smithy on Bass, me on Lead guitar and Danny Bonarius (real name!) on vocals. Happy Happy days. First gig was at a rugby club in Esh Winning, or certainly on the way there and it proved to be the start of a very long foray into the working mens clubs for me. I don’t remember many specific clubs with Distant Faces other than Belle Vue in Crook where all the mams and dads came and kicked off as we were jipped with payment for some reason. I also remember Bishop Club (now Lennons) in the market place and going away in the van countless times. We were supposed to play a club in Brotton on my 18th Birthday and the van broke down on the A19 just on the turnoff for the A174 in Middlesbrough. My 18th was spent with a luminous yellow jacket on waving traffic past whilst someone tried to fix it. We never got there. Im again sure that we had another gig there that we again didn’t make so Brotton club became known as “Brotton down”.
Smithy knew a guy called Shank who was in turn a friend of Graham Sewell (Vortex Lighting). Again hazy, but Shank supplied us with a PA in the early days and Im sure Graham was involved with the lights somewhere along the line. The thing I remember about Shank is where he lived. He had a farm on the outskirts of Toft Hill and he was building a “studio” there. Im sure it never got finished and remained a lowly barn. Smithy and I used to go up and visit Shank and his evil Siamese devil cat. Shank would stick Frank Zappa on, get his spliff box out, and the 4 of us got trousered and watched and listened and smoked some more. “Does Humour Belong in Music” was the Video that was played often, and as I write this my freshly purchased copy, bought today, lies infront of me. Smithy and I used to sit, only moving our smoking arm as if you made any other movement at all, the cat would “have” you. Im telling you, ive always had cats and loved them, but I was petrified of this thing.
Shanks appearance or involvement ceased at some point and we were forced to find someone else. I remember distinctly ringing around one day to find a PA guy and going right through the phone book. I also distinctly remember ringing Vamps Music in Washington and speaking to some guy called Jim McCabe. Weird. Anyway, we got in touch with a company in Gosforth called STUK headed up by a certain mr Stu Keeble who still, nearly to this day, pops up from time to time. More about him later.
The band transformed into “Nightshift” which remained the same lineup bar Bik. I think he’d got sick, I don’t really remember but his replacement was Mark Roe who now drinks in the Fir Tree. The only thing I remember vividly about Mark being in the band was him watching us reverse the van back one night at Gosforth whislt dropping Terry (our sound engineer) and June (his little soundman case) off. Mark was waving us back shouting “common, back, back, bit more …” CRUNCH! “ok stop!” I do remember him being a good player though, and I did try and rope him into something before ATB, but he was having none of it. He does however, fit a mean garage door these days.
Terry and June were with us for ages and even Dave Reynolds got involved at one point to do the lights. Once whilst picking Terry and June up, Dave hid behind the chair in the van with one of those hairy brown monster gloves on. I think the full band were in the van when Terry and June got in and Dave, with his perfect comedy timing, just sat there for a good five minutes whilst we got going. We chatted blandly about nothing those five minutes, before Terry was head to squeal like a girl and just about fling June out of the window. Dave had slid the offensive appendage over his shoulder and tickled his cheek. Brill.
In true Ditchfield fashion, I don’t recall the circumstances of our split, but that was me into the clubs alright. Meanwhile, Dave Reynolds had introduced me to a band called Citizen Kane. Coincidently, whist at Bishop Auckland College I had met a guy in Art class called Mick Shoulder who fed me my first Olive. He’d brought it in to sketch and afterwards allowed me to eat it as I said I hadn’t had one before, it was rank! He later showed me his coarse black donkey jacket, where the olive had resided for a week in the pocket.
Mick turned out to be the bass player in Citizen Kane, and I started to get to know the rest of the band, one of which became a great friend and for 3 or 4 years we just about lived out of each others pockets, though avoided Olives at all costs.
Alan Meadows was an absolute star and taught me a hell of a lot about playing the clubs and also extracting the best fee for the least amount of work and outlay. This period in my “career” was an absolute howl and came about because of some “crooner” who needed backing for a New Years Eve gig at Evenwood Club. Steve Burney, who was the then drummer in Citizen Cane and yours truly were drafted in along with Alan to generate some sort of backing for this guy. I was to play bass and bought this old Carlsboro combo off Mick Shoulder to go along with my £160 Yamaha Bass bought from Rock City in Middlesbrough. Meadows and Burney were however accomplished musicians and were presented with “dots”. I was a 19 year old kid who thought dots were there to be joined and just about had a coronary when I was presented with them. “Its alright man, just follow me”, said Alan, so I did. For about 4 years.
The gig culminated in chairs being thrown around the room to the tune of “you’ve lost that loving feeling”. The police arrived and bore witness to the end of a fine gig and the start of a fine trio.
Alan Meadows, Steve Burney and I decided that since we could all do with a bit of extra cash, we should carry on this musical nonsense in the shape of club band. We begged stole and borrowed this ridiculous PA made up of two horrible sounding “White” bins, with a horn slapped in along the way, some form of powered mixer amp and a Wem Copy Cat for echo on the vocals. Joy of all joys, “Packet of Three” had been born and off we jolly well went.
Our first gig came about after 2 weeks of rehearsals whereupon our 2 x 45 minute spots consited of 1 x 30 minute. Our agent, a certain Mike Bond, gllefully announced that Middlesbrough cycling club where eager to sample our wears and we were to cart our buttocks in that direction for the purpous of entertaining “cyclists”. Why on earth it was called a cycling club, remains a mystery to me to this day. I would be very surprised if there was one cyclist in that night or indeed any of the other nights I had the misfortune of playing there. The only plausible explanation I can attribute to the name of this establisgment , were the amount of “Bikes” wandering about outside. That area of Middlesbrough is renowned for them.
We arrived, set up and eventually launched into oour particularly short first spot. After about 20-25 minutes, just as I was wondering what Meadows was going to pull out of his very large hat, lady luck came a knocking on the stage door, in the very alluring shape of a “Meat Draw”. We had been saved, for the time being and Meadows gave a blistering performance. This must have been the longest meat draw known to man or beast. He spun it out for about 20 minutes trying to get as much as he feasibly could for a bag scabby pigs trotters. We eventually finished our first spot and went for a pint.
Having played for a considerable portion of his life, Meadows had amassed songs in his head like tin earings to a chav, as the infamous “Muddley” was to illustrate. I think we’d managed to save a couple of songs to start the second set with before “follow me” rang out and Steve and I obliged, eyes pinned on Alan and whatever the hell he was about to play subsequently.
The Muddley, it has to be said, became a work of art. It got better, more polished, longer and far less of a ballache to play. What started out as a set filler, became a firm favourite, certainly with me, and we played it for months. The weird thing about it was that loads of the songs we played, I had never even heard of but if Meadows was playing an A, I wasn’t far behind him.
Packet of Three was an absolute hoot, even if Bill Dixon (The North Easts answer to Steven Speilberg of the workingmens clubs. Basically a jumped up, self centred agent who thought he was god, and to all intense and purpose, was.) wouldn’t touch us with a barge pole because of the name. No Matter, we didn’t need him. Mike Bond’s gigs were coming in thick and fast and we were scooting around the dregs and cess pits of the north east club scene like no-ones business.
Another gig I remember quite well was ??????? club near Spennymoor. Alan and I turned up first, though I don’t think it was in the same vehicle. Infact Im sure it wasn’t in the same vehicle as Alan’s Brown Hearse-like Peugeot 504 Estate was an out and out death trap and none would dare ride it. The drivers side window had been knocked out and replaced with plastic sheeting which made a thunderous noise at any speed over 30. It also meant that pulling out at junctions became a game of Russian roulette. Meadows only comment in retort to the constant pisstaking by Steve and I was that it had a “good engine” and this was certainly true. The downside to the “vehicles” good engine, was undoubtably its shite brakes, or lack thereof. When he bought this thing, I honestly believe it was Blue or Red, or some other lovely car type colour. I think it only turned Brown due to Alan persistently witnessing rapidly approaching walls, traffic lights, clubs, other (legitimate) road users or pedestrians and the “good engine” having to scream in protest as first gear was selected in order to slow his hearse and bowel movements down.
Alan and I shuffled our gear in and began to set up and it wasn’t too long before monsieur Burney showed up, white as a sheet. He ordered a whiskey, sat down and proceeded to tell us how he’d just escaped from the mad clutches of a knife wielding lunatic. Steve Burney was a social worker, and had gone to extract someones child as far as I can remember. The Gentlemen whom Steve had visited wasn’t too happy about this and had made his feelings known accompanied by a flash of sharpened steel and a few choice words. Im sure there was far more to it than this, but I wasn’t there and neither was Alan. We were at the club ready to play.
The gig was non descript save for an incident at the end. The dressing room had two doors, one leading onto the stage, and one leading out into the audience, oddly enough, theyre mostly all like that. We had finished our Mudley and were getting changed when Alan realised he’d left his pint onstage. Always the comedian, he thought it would be hilarious to run out with just his undies on to grab his neglected beer and since that was the state of undress he was in, off he went. Steve and I reacted in an instant, locking the stage door behind him before wetting ourselves, then leaving through the other door to witness the result of our achievement.
Fully clothed, Me and Mr Burney sat, pint in hand, entertained to perfection as Alan and his pants muttered new found catch phrases whilst banging on the stage door for our ghosts to allow him re-entry.
“Howay lads, enoughs enough”
“Aye, right, jokes over”
“yeah yeah, funny as f*ck”
I really cant remember how the next band came about. Thinking about it there are various possibilities but I’m going to settle with the fact that our then keyboard player (in the limit) introduced me to Dave (??) a keyboard player from Darlington. Dave was an accomplished player and played in a band called Soul Connection who were looking for a Bass player. I hate soul to be honest, but this band were working 3,4 nights a week, had something of a show, decent gear and a proper 7.5 tonne Iveco Van/Truck thing.
SC’s trump card, infact their only card was that their ‘singer’ Mitch was the spitting dab of Errol Brown out of Hot Chocolate. They would open the set with him wearing a Tina Turner wig, do a couple of songs then whup it off and launch into some Hot Choc number to the amazed coo’s of the punters in the audience. I have to admit, I thought it was quite cool at the time but thinking back now, if it wasn’t for that gimic they would have had nothing. Mitch was a dreadful singer, good front man and loads of charisma, but a shit singer none the less. He also used to drink like a trouper, whiskey if I remember correctly, and would have a good few before even getting in the van for the gig. I did quite like him though, and we had a good laugh generally with Dave involved somewhere along the line.
The band itself consisted of their founder/drummer Paul Morisson, a rather large guy from Aycliffe, who ran the band like a business and I have to admit did a decent job of it. He loved his “band image” thing and we all had teeshirts and bomber jackets with the SC logo on the back. Again at the time, you felt quite cool and part of something with your Soul Connection jacket on. Heh. Pauls playing was distinctly average, he was in time and could get through his gigs no problem, but there was nothing that stood out particularly. The guitarist, was about 16 or something and used to be ferried about by his dad and always with his younger brother in tow. He was a very clean living guy who wouldn’t have a drink at all, but was a fine player for a tee totaller all the same! Dave was a cracking keyboard player, and very much the showman too. He had BIG 80’s hair, reminded me of the guy out of Kajagoogoo, and was very into white. So much so, that he painted his black Korg M1 thus ruining it for ever. Dave and I got to know each other quite well and went out clubbing and the like, so as we were mates, I figured it would be easy enough to get the job with the band. I remember going for the audition at the village hall in summerhouses, which was where the Limit used to rehearse. I walked in and was very impressed with the PA and set up. I still had the old carlsboro bass amp I had bought from Mik shoulder having retrieved it from Steve Burney who had held it captive for a while* and my old Yamaha RBX300 bass which I had bought for 160 quid when Packet of Three kicked off which compared to what was set up was a bag of shite. Never the less, I had learned the songs I had been given and played away to the best of my ability. I wonder, to be honest, what sort of a player I was back then. I obviously thought I was good enough, and after playing with Meadows and the Limit I expect I was, but I reckon I got the job through Dave rather than my seemingly fabulous playing.
Having finished the audition, I trundled off and awaited news of my Fate. Im sure Dave and I were off out that same night and it wasn’t long before he rang me.
“Right”, he announced “you’ve got the job on one condition …”
“go on then”
“you need to buy yourself some new gear!”
Well there you go. I hadn’t seen that one coming.
Soul Connection changed my life in more ways than one, and I suppose I can give full credit to Paul Morisson for being that “life shaper”. At the time I suppose I wasn’t very happy about the first quest but whatever unhappiness lingered over my head soon turned to unabridged joy as I completed my “never never” purchase at Rock City in Newcastle. I now owned my very own Trace Elliot 4×10 combo and I fucking loved it!
Strangely, though being such an integral part of my musical career, SC holds very few vivid memories. I remember carrying thos damn Bass Bins up ridiculous flights of stairs, Mitch getting pissed as a fart and wanting to kill band members in the van on the way home, going for Chicken at some dive of a take away in Middlesbrough, experiencing a “blues” club in a house in some backstreet part of Middlesbrough (seriously I could have died here. A Blues club is basically a boarded up house turned into a pub/bar/drug haven. There were users of everything under the sun in this place. Dark, seedy and highly illegal, a very scary place indeed.) and being sacked. Again.
I think there was more than one reason for this, but the reason given by Paul was Booze. Basically he reckoned that I drank too much and it wasn’t good for the image of the band. It effected my playing, which it probably did, but I honestly believe that my image just wasn’t right for the band. I have always been a bit of a showman and wasn’t accustomed to standing at the back thumping away like Bass players generally do. If there was space on any part of the stage, I would do my best to fill it. I would be jumping around like a lunatic, climbing on the drum riser and with the advent of wireless guitar systems forgetting about the stage altogether. The drink argument was pretty irrelevant compared to what Mitch put away during a night, but as already mentioned, the band would have been nothing without Mitch.
After inviting me down to a pub in Aycliffe and giving me this fabulous news, Paul went on to inform me of a band based in Newcastle who were looking for a Bass Player and he reckoned they’d be right up my street. He couldn’t have been more right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the best two years of my life … Shooting Party!!
Their weird little van was the very first aspect of this band I was to be associated with. I had called earlier in the week and spoken to one of them, who invited me along to see just what I would be getting myself into. I was informed that they’d be playing some club in Jarrow/Hebburn and come the night in question off I went. En route, I passed this old grey ex-post office van with what looked like 20 people crammed in the front and instantly found it amusing. It looked like a large van had been taken and sawn in half with the back axle having been moved forward without any thought of where exactly to place it. Don’t ask me why, but it reminded me of a sawn off shotgun and I christened it thus thinking I’d never see the like, again.
I eventually pulled up into the club car park whereupon, of course, there was the “sawn off shot van” being unloaded by a bunch of neanderthals.
Steve “the hippy” Walker, it turned out, was the guy I had spoken to on the phone. He had long wavy brown hair, a big nose and worked at HMV. It occurred to me that had he had a beard he would have looked uncannily like Frank Zappa. I was introduced to Colin ‘nee taj’ Barber, Jim ‘Jimmy Mac’ McAdam, Johnny ‘Mr Sex (cos he wasn’t!)’ WOSSFACE, Steve ‘didn’t need a nickname’ Martin, Brian the Sound Engineer and last but certainly by no means least Tony Dunn.
Tony was the lighting guy and must go down in history as one of the funniest people I have ever, ever met. The stories about him are legendary and will be explored later but needless to say, they were all a great bunch of lads
Eventually the band came on and opened up with “The Boys are Back In Town”. I was blown away. If ever there was a band I wanted to be in, this was it.
To be Continued …